This week the DonorScape Blog enjoys a guest post from GG+A Vice President Suzanne Hilser-Wiles. Suzanne has more than 15 years of experience in advancement, program-building, and campaign planning and implementation in higher education, healthcare, arts and cultural, and other non-profit organizations.
Last week’s philanthropic news included the announcement of a $30 million gift from an alumnus to Harvard University for unrestricted purposes, but with the donor’s stated hope that some of it will be used to benefit scholarships, particularly for middle class students. The alumnus, also a two-time Harvard parent, said that a prime motivation for his gift was the scholarships he received which enabled him, the son of a police officer, to attend the University. While it is easy to see why a grateful alumnus would support his university, it is important to remember that many don’t and even among those who do, few give to the their ability. So what can a university do to ensure that a grateful student becomes an invested donor?
This work begins while students are still on campus, instilling in them a sense of gratitude towards donors and an understanding of why and who makes those gifts. Clearly, donors are delighted to receive thank you notes from students, accompany them to university scholarship events and be informed of the success of “their” students, but they are not the only ones who benefit. I have witnessed donors telling students that the only thanks they want is for these students to do the same for someone else when they are able– what could be a more powerful motivator than giving back in honor of the person who made your education possible?
The development office often has an established relationship with student scholarship recipients because they are asked to help acknowledge donors. It is imperative that these relationships continue beyond graduation, and that these young alumni are cultivated for small, but regular gifts as they transition into the working world. Information about the difference scholarships have made on campus, about students who have received scholarships and about ways in which other scholarship recipients have supported the university can all inspire leadership giving.
While few people will be able to make a gift of $30 million, virtually all alumni can support their alma mater. By creating a culture of gratitude among students and with the right stewardship after they graduate, universities can inspire these former scholarship recipients to give at levels that are meaningful to them and taken together can be transformative for the institution.